String Theory – Alpha Update

So it’s been a bit of time since midmortems, but based on the name of this blog post, I think it’s easy to assume that our team ended up going through midmortems! String Theory was a hit amongst the many other fantastic games that were shown off, and during deliberations, we were pretty much immediately given the green light to continue into the rest of the semester.

So with that out of the way, two teams of the five in our “studio” were cut and their members were absorbed onto the other teams. Our team managed to more than double in size after the merges, picking up the follow members and placing them onto the following roles:

  • Julianna Zegarelli, level design
  • Lauren Ritze, UI/UX and sound design
  • Bryan Richardson, assistant producer
  • James Smith, gameplay programming
  • Oliver Patric, generalist artist

With the team now larger and more equipped to handle the difficulties of a combat-focused game, we jumped right into development!… after a week or two of onboarding. It unfortunately took some time for the team to get back on track and fully adjusted to the bigger team and bigger goals of now actually creating a vertical slice of a game.

From a design standpoint, this was the time when I really had to figure out the focus of the game and where we wanted to take it. This was probably the most important part of my job designing the game, because it really required me to find the fun of the game, while also maintaining scope for our limited time frame of two months. The game’s initial focus was on exploration, upgrades, and a mix of puzzle solving and combat. However, after testing and looking at what was really feasible, it was clear that the most fun aspect of the game was the yoyo and how to use it in combat. So instead of focusing on new moves and types of yoyos, I thought of instead creating a small amount of moves that could be utilized in many different ways through the enemies and environment. This would make the game feel more dynamic because players can perform multiple interactions with just a single use of the yoyo, and therefore they’re expected to figure out how to use the yoyo in all of these different scenarios.

So, let’s go over the stuff we’ve added and changed, and of course I spent the time to make some gifs!

So first up is our entire new level! Julianna designed the level, with a few structural tweaks when I did a passthrough and greyblocked it, but the work Michelle put in to make it look as good as it does is nothing short of amazing! It’s hard to show off in just VR, but when the headset is on, the scale of the level is unlike anything I’ve really seen, if I’m honest. We also have a tutorial level and a final level both greyblocked out!


So the first thing players might notice when they jump into this new level is that hitting this far away button is far easier than it was to hit a close up button in the previous level! That’s because we’ve implemented an aim assist to certain objects more easily! We found that players were already having trouble at first getting the hang of using the yoyo, and that precision aiming was harder to teach than we thought. So now, we can add aim assist to any object we’d like, and we can individually adjust how wide of a radius the assist covers as we test the game and see how well players are doing. We still want to make the game fairly skill-based, but it becomes frustrating not being able to hit anything.


Next, we’ve added two new interactable objects for the player to use their moves with. First, in combat, a player can grapple onto these scaffoldings and pull them over, instantly killing any enemies in its path. This is a good option to give players to keep combat dynamic and to try to get them to lead the maximum amount of enemies into it.


Second, we added some simple moving platforms that the player can grapple onto and pull themselves over gaps. Right now it’s a bit hard to see the grapple hooks on them, but players have said that this interaction can be small, but keeps the level flowing a bit more and giving the player something to think about.


Finally, the third and final move that players can perform beyond the attack and grapple is the knockback, which hits enemies and objects away. This move works great for crowd control when a player is being ganged up on. We also hope there will be an interaction or two with the knockback, such as launching explosive barrels at groups of enemies.


Most of my design work in the lead-up to alpha was simply functionality testing, making slight changes to the gameplay experience, and making sure all of the parts of the game are implemented correctly. This is something that I’ve never really been able to do before as a designer because all of our projects up until this point have been done in a few weeks, and it was just a mad rush to get everything done. Instead, we’re actually doing agile development now! It’s satisfying to be able to get to focus wholeheartedly on the play experience now as we keep testing and improving the game.

Looking forward to beta, I’m excited to see where the game ends up! We have a lot of the pieces to finish up the game that just need to be put in, which is both frustrating and nice. I’m excited to be able to work on simply making the yoyo feel as good as possible for players, because that’s the main goal of the project to me. We’ll be adding vibrations, more sound effects, the enemy models, and so much more soon. I’ll have another update after beta is reached in about a month, but until then, thanks for reading up on the continued progress of String Theory!

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